Corkman Tony Mullane’s Major League Baseball record is “universally accepted” as being one of the greatest in the history of the sport. Yet over a century after his retirement he has still, rather curiously, yet to be inducted into the sport’s Hall of Fame.
The legendary 19th-century Irish pitcher remains in the top 30 on the all-time Major League win list, with an historic first American Association ‘no-hitter’ to his name in 1892. Though perhaps his best-known feat was in becoming the first player to pitch with different arms in the same game.
And with no inductees being considered this year — because of Covid restrictions in the US — Mullane is no closer to achieving that final career honour. His career on the field is undeniable worthy of inclusion but that is not the only qualifying factor for the Cooperstown museum.
Mullane’s problems off the field, including accusations of racism, assault, marital violence, and match-fixing allegations, mar the legacy of a sporting great whose achievements on the mound outshone even Babe Ruth.
Mullane’s career total of 284 wins over the course of 13 years put him “second all time in wins among pitchers not in the Hall of Fame”, according to a detailed article by baseball writer Jerry Grillo for the Society of American Baseball Research website (sabr.org).
Mullane’s name may not be too widely known in Cork these days — but at the turn of the 20th century the Corkonian was one of the most famous figures in American sport.
Grillo wrote of Mullane’s “incomparable career as one of the 19th century’s dominant pitchers and great characters, a handsome, free-spirited rogue, and one of the game’s most versatile characters”.
It was his versatility that brought him his fame — on July 18, 1882, the Corkman became “the first ambidextrous pitcher in Major League history”, pitching both right- and left-arm in the same game for the Louisville Eclipse in Baltimore; a feat only repeated twice since. He also pitched the first no-hitter in American Association history — in September of that same season at the home of the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
Baseball writer Ray Birch, in another article for the sabr.org, wrote that: “Anthony John Mullane, also known by the nicknames ‘The Count’ and ‘The Apollo on the Box’, was born on January 30, 1859, in Co Cork. Well known as a ladies’ man, he was also a competitive roller skater and ice skater.
“Mullane played every position except catcher at one time or another. He was also a fine boxer, known for putting his pugilistic skills to the test on a ballfield.”
Mullane was the eldest son of Denis Mullane, a labourer born in 1827, and Elizabeth (Behan) Mullane (born 1828), a homemaker. Anthony had two brothers and a sister, and in 1862 the family emigrated to the United States.
In his book A Fine-Looking Lot of Ball-Tossers, Richard McBane wrote that, while living in Erie, Pennsylvania, Mullane “would run away from home and play ball.
In the early part of his career, Mullane’s good looks were credited in part with bringing many women to baseball — so striking was the Cork man that several Major League teams planned their Ladies’ Days, a new phenomenon in the 1880s, around when Mullane would be part of the visiting teams.
Perhaps his most famous moment came in Baltimore in 1882 though — having started the game, Mullane found himself seven runs down and increasingly frustrated. So he did what no one had seen before in the Major Leagues — he switched to his left arm. (He eventually lost the game narrowly by 9-8).
In his article entitled July 18, 1882: Tony Mullane Goes Both Ways, Grillo wrote: “A strong-armed pitcher who completed 468 of the 504 games he started, Mullane had injured his arm in a distance-throwing contest a few years earlier, so he’d thought himself to throw left-handed. That’s why he was capable of giving his self-made sinistrality a test run.”
The question, then, is why he isn’t in the Hall of Fame more than a century after hanging up his specially-designed two-handed glove. The answer, simply put, is down to his personality. Mullane’s notoriety as a ladies’ man and his lauded pitching skills had helped to make him a household name, but it was his roguishness that brought him his notoriety.
“Mullane became sought after,” wrote Birch of Mullane’s 1884 signing with Toledo, the latest in a line of moves he made over a career that saw him play with more than a dozen teams. “One of Mullane’s catchers in Toledo was Moses Fletcher Walker, who is credited by some as the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.”
“Moses Fleetwood Walker was the best catcher I ever worked with,” Mullane himself would say some years later, “but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him, I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking for signals. The rest of the season he caught anything I threw — I pitched without him knowing what was coming.”
“While pitching in a game in St Louis on May 4, Mullane felt the wrath of the crowd. He was called a contract breaker and a cheat, and was hissed when he hit, and raucously cheered when he struck out. To the crowd’s disappointment, Mullane showed little or no reaction,” wrote Birch.
“Mullane signed with Cincinnati in November, but his signing violated a previous deal he had made with the St Louis Browns. Mullane was subsequently suspended for a year and fined $1,000 for breaching his contract with Toledo.
“Mullane signed with the Reds in 1886, opening a pool room in Cincinnati, but controversy erupted in his first season when the Cincinnati Times-Star reported an accusation that Mullane and four other players had thrown a game at Brooklyn.
“The accuser, Patrick J McMahon, alleged that Mullane told him to bet as much as he could on Brooklyn to win after the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, despite the fact that Cincinnati was 7-0 ahead at the end of the seventh inning. With Mullane pitching, Brooklyn scored eight runs in the eighth and four more in the ninth to win the game.
"Mullane sued the newspaper in Ohio over what he deemed to be slanderous and malicious libel. Meanwhile, a baseball panel cleared Mullane of any charges.”
Mullane fell out with the team owners shortly after — he was suspended without pay and fined $100 for insubordination after refusing to play until his salary was increased. The situation became “more complicated when Mullane threatened the president of the club, Aaron Stern, with violence over the fine”.
Tragedy would follow in 1891 with the loss of his son — his performances on the mound plummeting as a result, combined with an injury. He was reportedly close to signing for the Chicago Colts shortly thereafter “before his wife intervened and said no to the proposed deal”, according to Birch.
In May of 1893 Mullane’s wife of seven years, Barbara, filed for divorce “alleging that he beat her after she criticised his play after a game. In turn Mullane filed for alimony from his wife, saying that she smoked cigarettes, drank beer and lost much of his money in ‘wild schemes’.”
In 1894 his estranged wife accused him of attempted murder after an argument over alimony — and later that year thewrote that Mullane had developed a ‘sulky temper’ in Baltimore, and had been sued for $2,000 by a hotel proprietor for hitting him with a baseball bat.
After playing for a few more years in the minor leagues, Mullane finally retired from baseball in 1903; then, somewhat ironically, he joined the Chicago PD as a complaint sergeant. He suffered a near-fatal swelling of the brain in 1911 but recovered to see out his second career in the force, retiring in 1924.
“He was also willing to bend the rules of baseball, pitching above the shoulder at a time when this was considered an illegal pitch; he was also considered to be tight-fisted with his money, often wearing clothes until they became raggedy. But one thing that was universally acknowledged about him was that Tony Mullane was one of the dominant pitchers in professional baseball of his time,” wrote Birch.
Mullane’s obituary in the Toledo Blade on Thursday, April 27, 1944 read: “Only a handful of contemporaries remained today to recall the pitching feats of Anthony (Tony) Mullane, whose baseball career spanned a 25-year period from 1878-1903. Mullane, who joined the Chicago Police force when his playing days were over, served until 1924 and he died at home at the age of 85.